William Wallace Cook – Writing Quote Wednesday

Writing Quote by Paul Jenny from morgueFile.com photo

Writing Quote by Paul Jenny from morgueFile.com photo

Also known as “the man who deforested Canada,” William Wallace Cook (see his IMDb page here) supposedly wore out 25 typewriters churning out hundreds of nickel and dime novels over his forty year career. He wrote under a bunch of pseudonyms, even using one to write his own memoir, The Fiction Factory.

In 1910 he pumped out fifty-four novels, just over one a week, and could pound out a completed manuscript in 24 hours if he had to. He worked out a system where each novel fit into the same 40,000 word format of sixteen chapters of five single-space pages each.

The writing system was based on a simple statement: “Purpose, opposed by Obstacle, yields Conflict” and he set down his system of storytelling in a book called Plotto. His plot generating system includes hundreds of scenarios using the “purposes” and “obstacles” he devised over forty years of grinding out pulp fiction for the masses. In the instruction manual at the end of the book Cook says, “he earnestly believes that here in Plotto is TRUTH, and a Method of Originality as firmly founded as human nature itself.”

The Boston Globe in September 1928 announced “MACHINE GRINDS OUT PLOTS WITHOUT ANY FALSE START.” I’m not sure if they were referring to Cook or his book. There are over 438 pages of plot ideas relating to Cook’s theories and it makes for a fascinating read. At the end of the book Cook quotes a “London publisher” who says, “Plotto will be condemned publicly – and probably used privately.”

Let me know in the comments if you’ve read Plotto or used any other kind of plot generator in your work. Have a great writing week everyone!

Harlan Ellison – Writing Quote Wednesday

Harlan Ellison Qo

Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny using Flickr photo by Cory Doctorow

I really love making these Writing Quote Wednesday posters for Stories are the Wildest Things. I get to look for images on Flickr.com that are listed as Creative Commons. I love doing research about the writers quoted and sometimes add their work to my TBR list. I learn something about writing and myself with each quote I publish.

I especially love that I’m quoting Harlan Ellison using a photo put on Flickr by Cory Doctorow (CC License) of two covers of pulp fiction novels by the “author of Sex Gang, Paul Merchant”, who also happens to be Harlan Ellison. (You should definitely click on that link to Sex Gang over at Amazon.com. You’ll be amazed at what price that collectible novel is going for. If you buy it, let me know.)

Today’s quote is one that I originally saw on Twitter via Jon Winokur on @AdvicetoWriters. Jon has tons of great advice and I’ve been following his Twitter feed and the Advice to Writers site for some time. I’m always inspired by what he puts out there. Thanks for the inspiration, Jon!

Here’s a video from Harlan Ellison’s YouTube channel called “Pay the Writer” from Erik Nelson’s definitive Ellison doc, Dreams With Sharp Teeth. (Some NSFW language in typical Ellison style) Enjoy!

Please leave a comment about staying a writer, Harlan Ellison, Jon Winokur (or anything else you’re inspired to share) in the comments section. I love hearing from you.

Fail Hard! The Only Way to Get Better at Writing, Jobs, Relationships and Life


Flickr photo “FAIL STAMP” by Nima Badiey

Today I want you to FAIL and fail hard.

Yes, you read that right.

I often say this to my students at the start of a semester. I look around the classroom at freshly scrubbed faces eager to learn and be successful in their chosen field and I tell them I want them to fail.

I clarify this by saying that I obviously don’t want them to fail the class, that would do no one any good. They wouldn’t graduate and I’d most likely get fired.

What I mean when I say I want them to fail is that I want them to push themselves beyond what their every day habits and learned responses are. I want them to DO something (not try, there is no try according to Master Yoda) and fail if they have to. You won’t know what you are fully capable of until you do something with acceptance of the possibility of failure. If you feel stuck in something: writing, your job, your relationships, your LIFE; I want you to do something today that you might fail at doing.

Write a short story and submit it to a literary magazine or writing contest. You’ll most likely be rejected. So what? What have you gained by the experience of writing it and submitting versus writing it and never showing it to anyone? Post it to your blog as well. What if everyone hates it? You’ve learned how to NOT write a short story. That’s valuable. You’ve failed and gained.

Work on that novel chapter you haven’t opened up in a while in a folder on your laptop. Did you finish the rest of the novel all in one sitting? Oh, no! You’ve failed at completing your novel. The good news is you’ve made a giant step toward figuring out what your story is all about. You’ve put more words on paper. You’re taking one more step toward completion. You’re also spending some time doing something that you love while everyone else who isn’t working on their novel is not. See how failure can be a good thing?

Talk to that person you’ve been afraid to approach. Ask them out for coffee or just introduce yourself. They might laugh at you, but really, so what? Why waste any more energy dreaming about a relationship that might be when the idea of the person you’ve had in your head doesn’t match up to real life? You’ve failed at going out with that person, but have been successful at finding out something you’ve just been sitting around wondering about.

At your job, grab a colleague and ask for input on something you’ve been working on. What if they say it’s a ridiculous idea? So what. What if they give you new insight that makes the idea even better? What if two heads really are better than one and you create the next big thing?

Some very famous people have encouraged failure.

Bill Gates “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.

J.K. Rowling “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might has well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.

Napoleon Hill “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed on an equal or greater benefit.

Denis Waitley “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.

Roger Van Oech “Remember the two benefits of failure. First, if you do fail, you learn what doesn’t work; and second, the failure gives you the opportunity to try a new approach.

In fact, there are 40 pages of quotes about failure on BrainyQuote.com where I got these.

Failure can also point out something you need to change. If you keep doing something over and over and failing at it but you are loving the process, keep trying to figure out what you need to do to be successful. But if you keep failing at something and you hate every second of it, or you dread participating in it because there’s no joy, or you realize that what you are attempting just isn’t for you, then give up! Seriously. Stop doing those things that don’t bring you joy in some way.

I’m not saying give up on hard work and things that are difficult. I’m saying that if you find something absolutely oppressive about what it is you’re doing over and over and failing at, perhaps it’s time to move on. The more things you try DO and FAIL DOING, the closer you are to finding the successful work you love.

Perhaps you know deep in your bones and soul and stomach that you are a writer but you face constant rejection. Maybe you are writing in the wrong genre. Try writing something else. Maybe you just don’t have the skills you need to be successful. Take a class. Join a writing group. Ask for feedback. Write more. Write less. Do something different. Fail. Fail. Fail.

If you aren’t having success in a job search, perhaps you aren’t looking in the right place, or enough places or talking to enough people. Almost every FULFILLING job I’ve had in the past 20 years has been because I’ve gotten to know someone who works for that organization before I’ve worked there. I’ve almost never gotten a job just by submitting a résumé. Reach out and get to know someone in the organization you’re interested in working with. Who are you afraid to contact because you might fail? You do risk rejection by reaching out to that person, but you also have the opportunity to make a new connection and gain an ally in finding work. You’ll never connect with the people you don’t reach out to.

If you are in a relationship that isn’t working, what can you do to either make it work or give it up?  What haven’t you tried yet because you were afraid it might fail? Being grateful is one thing I’ve found makes all of my relationships better. Especially if it’s someone I don’t get along with very well. When I’ve decided to be grateful for what that person has to teach me about life, my outlook changes and so does my relationship. If it doesn’t, if I fail at being grateful, I stop being in a relationship with that person. Trust me, both of you will be much happier.

Finally, where in your life are you failing? Working out? Getting the house cleaned? Spending time with the kids? What you’ve accomplished in life? The amount of money you make? Where is fear of failure holding you back?

Take a look at those areas and see what failure is trying to teach you. What you resist truly persists. By not resisting failure, you allow space for success. Every amazing, joyful, successful experience I’ve had in my life has been a result of my being afraid of failure and deciding to face my fear and do it anyway.

Do one thing today that pushes you to failure. Tell us about it in the comments section. I love hearing everyone’s stories. Listen to this one from TEDx Teens Tara Suri and Niha Jain.


SUBMISSIONS WANTED: I’m also still looking for short stories and essays for the Stories are the Wildest Things Podcast. Please submit them to pauljennynyc@gmail.com

We’ve gotten some great submissions so far, but I’d love to get more! Thank you to everyone who has submitted already. You’ll be hearing from me soon.

Have a great writing day.

E.L. Doctorow – Writing Quote Wednesday

Writing quote and photo by Paul Jenny

Writing quote and photo by Paul Jenny

For today’s writing quote I chose another actor/writer and fellow New Yorker, E.L. Doctorow. According to Wikipedia, Doctorow acted in college productions as an undergraduate at Kenyon College in Ohio. He did one year of graduate work at Columbia in English Drama before being drafted into the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army.

Doctorow married fellow Columbia drama school student Helen Esther Setzer while in Germany. He wrote his first novel, Welcome to Hard Times, as a response to his job as a screenplay reader. He had read so many Westerns while working on that job that he decided to write a parody of them, but by the time he finished the novel it had become a serious contribution to the genre.

His most recent novel, Andrew’s Brain,published in 2014 is about a “freakishly depressive cognitive scientist klutz”. You can read a review of that work by Terrence Rafferty HERE. 

You can also buy the novel on Amazon.com.

Watch Doctorow talk about Andrew’s Brain on YouTube.


According to Cory Doctorow, most recently the author of the YA novel Homeland, is often asked if he’s related to E.L. I found a quote on Answers.com where he’s attributed as saying, “Writers always ask if I’m related to award-winning novelist E.L. Doctorow. The answer is ‘probably.’ Family legend has it that my paternal grandfather’s uncle is E.L.’s grandfather. My folks met E.L. in 1998 and tried this theory out on him, and he said that it sounded about right, but didn’t seem very excited by it. ”


DON’T FORGET, I’m still looking for short-stories and essays about writing to read on the Stories are the Wildest Things Podcast. Please send me your short-stories and essays to pauljennynyc@gmail.com

Richard Rhodes – Writing Quote Wednesday

Richard Rhodes Writing Quote

Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny using Flickr photo “Look Downstairs into the Stairwell Whirl” by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann

How often do we ask ourselves the questions posed in Richard Rhodes’ quote?

  • Who am I?
  • What right have I to speak?
  • Who will listen to me if I do?

A great teacher of mine once said, “No matter what has happened in your life, you always have the right to tell your unique story NOW.”

Often, we think of our failures, our lack of trying, our excuses, as reasons to give up. We say, “I failed again, I might as well stop doing this thing I really love doing.”

But at any moment, you can choose to start again, to tell your story, to enlarge the circle.

With the passing of Robin Williams, many people have shared the stories of their experiences with depression. Each story I read gives me strength to tell my own.

My struggles with depression and anxiety happened during a time right before I was hired for my dream job. Instead of being happy about finally achieving a modicum of success, I had constant worries and thoughts about how it could all go wrong. I thought I deserved my illness somehow, that I was a bad person and was being punished. I thought that I didn’t deserve happiness.

Then, when I sought help, I realized that those thoughts had more to do with mixed-up brain chemistry and the need to share my stories more openly and live a more authentic life than anything to do with who I was as a person. The depression was causing me to think of myself as undeserving and bad and wrong. My only crime was being human.

Those closest to me didn’t understand. They said things like, “Cheer up, don’t be sad, look on the bright side,” and other clichés that people say to those who are feeling down. But depression is not just feeling down. It is a dark, spiral staircase that descends into a deep cellar of despair and loneliness.

It took a mental health doctor and prescribed medication and telling my stories to really help me recover.

I lost some important relationships and a job or two while I struggled with depression. I look back on those years and wish that I had been able to find help sooner. Maybe by sharing this story now, I can help someone else find the help they need more quickly.

Those relationships and that job cannot be recovered, but I can continue sharing my stories with passion and hopefully enlarging the circle.

Please share your stories, you have every right.

Watch Richard Rhodes talk about his writing on YouTube.com


Get Richard Rhodes’ book How to Write: Advice and Reflections on Amazon.com.

If you are feeling desperate, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK or visit them at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Karl-Ludwig Poggemann on Flickr. (CC License)

Claire Cook – Writing Quote Wednesday


Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny from Flickr photo by Aaron Evans

According to her bio page on Amazon.com, Claire Cook was writing her first novel at 45 in her minivan and walking the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of Must Love Dogs at 50. It’s the kind of story of re-invention and stick-to-itiveness that I love.

Cook is now the international bestselling author of 11 novels and a sought-after re-invention speaker. If you’re searching for a way to get a motivated and stay on track, I highly recommend her latest book, Never Too Late, Your Roadmap to Re-invention (without getting lost along the way). You can order it on Amazon.com by clicking this LINK. (4.9 out of 5 stars)

You can also find out more about Cook by visiting her official publisher’s page at SimonandSchuster.com HERE or on Twitter @ClaireCookwrite.

Let me know what you think of Cook’s work in the comments section! I always appreciate hearing from everyone.


Watch Claire Cook on the #BTLiveChat on YouTube.com

Flickr photo by Aaron Evans (CC License)

Nadine Gordimer – Writing Quote Wednesday

Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny with Flickr photo “Sunset Joy” by Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny with Flickr photo “Kali Sweats it Out” by flowcomm

Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny with Flickr photo “Sunset Joy” by flowcomm


Click HERE for an excellent article about Nadine Gordimer’s life by Helen T. Vorongos of the New York Times. The Nobel Prize winner’s novels were banned, but made a huge impact as she explored “the hot, crowded cinder-block neighborhoods and tiny shebeens of the black townships to the poolside barbecues, hunting parties and sundowner cocktails of the white society.”

I’ve spent time, however briefly, in the midst of South African culture (mostly in black townships) and I can see why Ms. Gordimer has said, “The fact that my books were perceived as being so political was because I lived my life in this society that was so much changed by conflict, by political conflict, which of course in practical terms is human conflict.”


Listen to Nadine Gordimer read some of her short stories at the 92nd Street Y on YouTube.com

Flickr photo by flowcomm (CC License)